In 1981, the Communist regime in Bulgaria built a gigantic monument on top of a ridge overlooking the city of Shumen, 450m above sea level. The Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument commemorates the 1300th anniversary of Bulgar Khan Asparuh’s entrance into the Balkans and the founding of the First Bulgarian Empire. It’s so big it can be seen as far as 30km away.
A steep stairway up to the monument begins near the heart of the city along bulevard Slavyanski. A small park containing the Monument of Freedom has an excellent view of the top of the ridge. The Monument of Freedom was erected in 1965 by sculptor Lubomir Dalchev.
I started walking up the staircase…
…and I walked up…
…and up some more, until I could make out the figure “crawling” out of the monument. It took me 20 minutes to get up to the top of the 1300 steps – one for each year of the 1300th anniversary (If you don’t want to walk, you can take a taxi to the top!). I took a quick rest, paid the very small admission fee, and started exploring the monument. An audio guide was available at an extra cost, but I decided to see it on my own.
The monument was built out of concrete in the Cubist style. It was designed by Bulgarian sculptors Krum Damyanov and Ivan Slavov.
The most prominent features of the monument as you approach it are the huge statues of the most important Bulgarian leaders. Represented are Khan Asparuh (681-701), Khan Tervel (701-721), Khan Krum (803-814), Khan Omurtag (814-831), Knyaz Boris I (852-889), and Tsar Simeon I (893-927). The work isn’t exactly beautiful, but it’s definitely impressive and intimidating. To me, it felt like I was in the secret lair of the Transformers.
If the statues aren’t enough to satisfy, the largest open-air mosaic in all of Europe is also part of the monument. The Cubist twist to a Byzantine icon represents the Bulgaria’s conversion to Christianity in the 9th century under Boris I.
Although it’s not physically appealing, the monument is quite a tribute to Bulgarian history. It has a much different effect than simple bronze monuments. I feel it portrays Bulgaria’s historic leaders in such a strong and heroic manner and gives permanence to their actions.
Lastly, while I was up there, I was able to enjoy the stunning views of Shumen before walking back down.